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The Jews House Restaurant, 15 The Strait, Lincoln, LN2 1JD

Building History

Murders and Ghosts!

The Jews House Restaurant is housed within a nine hundred year old, grade one listed building situated where old town meets contemporary Lincoln. Dating back to around 1150 it is thought to be the oldest dwellinghouse in Europe.

Unfortunately, little of the history of the building is documented although it has been the centre of rumours and legends over centuries.

What is known is that by 1150 Lincoln was not merely one of the wealthiest towns in England, it was the third most important city, after London and York, and home to one of the five most important Jewish communities in England. At the time the Jews House would have been one of the largest and most luxurious dwellings in the area.

Although the building has changed over the centuries, a large part of the facade survives including the ornately carved doorway, the remains of two double-arch windows and much of the stonework on the upper storey. The fireplace on the upper floor was served by a chimney breast rising over the arch above the front door. There were once two columns supporting the arch but these have since disappeared.

There was originally  a hall on the first floor, measuring approximately 12 by 6 metres but this has now been divided into smaller rooms.

The medieval undercroft is both atmospheric and perfect for storing wine.

The house has been at the centre of accusations, gossip and rumour, the most famous being the alleged "Ritual Murder" of Little Hugh:

In 1255 a young boy, Hugh, went missing and was found dead some weeks later. Around the same time the daughter of the house, Bellaset, was preparing for her wedding and members of the Jewish communities from all over the country had congregated in the area for the ceremony.

When Hugh's body was found word quickly spread that he had been murdered by the Jews. It appears that Coppin, a member of the Jewish community, was coerced into confessing. Unfortunately this led not only to his gruesome death (dragged up Steep Hill tied to the tail of a horse), but the execution in the Tower of London of eighteen of his alleged co-conspirators. Hugh was buried in Lincoln Cathedral and for some time his shrine was worshipped. For centuries he was referred to as Little St Hugh, although he was never actually canonised. 

In 1287 it is reported that one Bellaset, Jewess, was hanged for clipping coin (the practice of cutting small pieces from coins made of precious metal, the cut off pieces could then be melted into a bar and sold on). It is assumed that this is the same Bellaset whose wedding was at the centre of the alleged murder.

In 1190 anti-Semitic riots started in King's Lynn in Norfolk and spread to Lincoln. For safety the Jewish community took refuge with royal officials up at the castle while their houses and goods were plundered.

A century later the Jews were expelled from England and all their assets were seized by the crown.

It was typical of houses of this period to have the kitchen area separate from the dwelling, usually at the rear of the premises. Although there doesn't appear to be any evidence of this at The Jews House, the present kitchen is housed in the lower part of what is apparently a Victorian extension.

More recently, in January 2009, the building was badly damaged by a fire which broke out in an upstairs part of the Victorian extension. Fortunately no-one was injured but there was a lot of smoke and water damage throughout. Due to the nature of the building restoration was a delicate matter involving a range of agencies and what was expected to take six months, in fact, took nearly two years to complete.

The result is a comfortable, welcoming mix of ancient and modern.

As you might expect, a building with such a history is bound to have its tales of ghosts and The Jews House is no exception. There have been reports of inexplicable thumps and rattles, particularly from the top floor and attic, and also footsteps on the staircase. There have also been reports of voices in the passageways and pots and pans being moved around in the empty kitchen.

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